Why there are so few senior Dalit bureaucrats

It is catastrophic to admit now, 60 years later, that far from preventing discrimination against Dalits outside the narrow confines of the state, the Indian government has been unable to protect Dalit officers within the state. That is what the bill implies. Fortunately, this is not true. Since Independence, Dalits have been empowered within the state through quotas and powerful political parties. Overwhelming political support for the constitutional amendment is proof of this. Yet, Dalits and tribals remain the poorest, most discriminated, least literate Indians outside of the state. This then, is the 21st century consequence of what B.R. Ambedkar alluded to half-a-century ago: "in politics, we will have equality, and in social and economic life we will have inequality".

What then explains why there are, in some cases, so few senior government officers who are Dalit?

Let me suggest one. In any organisation, those who are towards the top of an entrance exam are more likely to rise to the top, compared to the bottom half. Our cabinet secretaries and foreign secretaries have typically been those nearer the top of the UPSC examination when they first joined. Even those at the bottom of the general list in the UPSC struggle to make it as Central secretaries. This is a trend seen in entrance exams everywhere. Those towards the top of an engineering or medical college entrance test tend to leave college at the top of the pile. Why should government be any different? Since Dalits and tribals are at the bottom of the merit list (since most avail of quotas), they are likely to be under-represented in senior government service decades later. Add to this the problem that since age restrictions are relaxed for them, Dalits and tribals officers tend to enter service older, retiring before reaching senior posts.

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